Asymmetric payoffs

Failure may well be a stepping stone to success, but failure under all circumstances doesn’t automatically lead to success. There are situations where failure can be beneficial, while there are failures that are pure tragedies.

Most startups fail. Perhaps 9 out of 10 startups fail. This reality is central to a venture capitalist’s business model. But a successful startup has the potential to offer returns that can far offset the failures in one’s portfolio. On investing an equal amount in ten startups, let us say that nine of them fail. If the one startup that succeeds offers you a return of 30x (not unusual with successful startups), it can easily offset the losses you made on the nine failed ones. Your net gain here would be about twice as much as your initial investment.

An asymmetric payoff is one where the downside is limited, but the upside is unlimited. We identify them when we start looking for them.

Every book is a bargain. Within each book is the potential to give us an insight that can transform our life. It can plant a seed that could grow into unimaginable possibilities. It can help us absorb a lifetime’s worth of the author’s learning in 3 to 6 hours. All of this for a price of about Rs 500 or €10. Older books that are cheaper end up having more wisdom. You can find fewer better deals.

Every moment that unfolds in our lives is filled with possibility.  Adam Robinson believes that we ought to step into every moment expecting wonder. Sure, there are chances that this does not happen, but when it does, the person with a glint in her eye notices it. Not the disinterested cynic.

Wonder, just like the asymmetric payoff it offers, appears when we look for it.

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